Vertical and Horizontal Peace
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
The Torah instructs us to give the Cohen various gifts (such as tithings from our crops, the first fruits, and other holy donations). Immediately following this instruction, the Torah speaks of the suspected adulterous wife. The husband must bring his wife to the Cohen, and the Cohen initiates a process to determine whether or not she is guilty of adultery.
Rashi explains the juxtaposition of giving gifts to the Cohen and bringing a suspected adulterous woman before the Cohen. If a person withholds donations to the Cohen, then the person will be forced to go to the Cohen with his suspected adulterous wife. While this explanation connects these two seemingly unrelated areas, the connection itself requires further explanation. What is the spiritual connection between withholding priestly donations and appearing before the Cohen with one’s suspected adulterous wife? The answer to a different question sheds light on this connection.
The Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers states: “Hillel used to say: be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and drawing them close to the Torah.” (1:12)
Hillel portrays Aaron, the Cohen Gadol (High Priest), as loving peace and pursuing peace. Although there are teachings in the oral Torah (Midrashim) portraying Aaron as a peacemaker, it is rather perplexing that there are, seemingly, no such teachings in the written Torah. One would expect such an important aspect of Aaron’s character to appear in the written Torah? Maharal explains that Aaron’s role as a peacemaker was, in fact, documented in the Torah. The Torah commands Aaron and his children to bring the various korbanot (offerings) in the Temple on behalf of the Jewish people. The purpose of the korbanot is to make peace between God and the Jewish people. Therefore, Aaron and his children were tasked with making peace.
We can now understand what Rashi was explaining on a deeper level. The Cohanim are responsible for restoring and maintaining peace and harmony between God and the Jewish people. People who fail to support and appreciate the Cohanim and their peacemaking mission, will (measure for measure) experience disharmony (lack of peace) in their personal relationships. Measure for measure, these people will eventually be forced to turn to the Cohen to restore the peace in their personal relationships. May we strive to pursue peace on every level of our lives—peace between ourselves and God as well as peace between ourselves and our fellow human beings.